Friday, June 15, 2012

Tips and Techniques in a Jungle Trek

Tips and Techniques in a Jungle Trek
Dear all,
During Vasota trek,I came to know some new tricks when you are trekking into a area infested with wild animals.
About Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary and Vasota
Koyna Wildlife sanctuary(Koyna WLS) is an area spanning around 400 square kilometers with major parts of Satara district(Talukas Medha,Wai,Patan) ,some parts of Ratnagiri(Khed,Chiplun Talukas) , Raigad(Poladpur Taluka)and further this wild life sanctuary is linked to Warna-Chandoli Wildlife sanctuary thus from Varandha-Mahabaleshwar to Gaganbawda till Amboli,there is a continuous dense forest cover in Sahyadris
Currently Koyna WLS has around 13 tigers,70 Leopards,200 sloth bears and around 250 Wild Indian Gaurs(Raan-Gava in Marathi)  and the other animals like Wild Pigs and Foxes,Wolves and Hyenas are also abundantly found.
Wild life at Vasota:
Vasota or Vyaghragad(The fort of tiger) has the most dense forests  in the koyna region and as the name Vyaghragad suggests,out of the 13 tigers in koyna WLS,3 are supposed to be found in the area of Vasota alone.Also almost 35 Leopards,80 bears and 125 raan-gava are found in this area itself thus in Koyna WLS,areas around Vasota-Nageshwar is definitely a home for these wild animals
From Koyna dam,Vasota is 400 to 500 meters in height(Almost like Sinhagad) but one has to walk around 8 kms in forests filled with wild animals thus it is a 2.5 hour trek.It do not have very steep climbs hence Vasota is a good trek for people of all ages but since it is in a reserved forests,precautions needs to be taken
Be in a group.If you are large group,divide yourselves in small group of 4 to 5 people and one group leader in between the two groups.Please take care that the distance between 2 groups is not more than 10 meters .
If anybody wants to see animals in the forests,dont use deodrants/spray perfumes.Due to these perfumes,animals usually stay away and cannot be sighted
Do not put hands below stones because there are possible chances of scorpions and snakes below it.Keep a piece of turmeric with you while trekking.Turmeric/Halkund repells almost all variety of snakes except banded krait(Aagya Manyar in Marathi which is present mostly near water sources)
Avoid wearing shorts if trekking in rainy season because leeches are present abundant and are very dangerous especially near Thoseghar,Koyna forests,Warna,Sangameshwar and Gaganbawda region of sahyadris where there is heavy rainfall.
When you see huge amount of dried leaves piled in between,dont walk through it.Try to judge what is in.Generally in forests of Koyna,King Cobras are present and they lay their eggs in a piled up dried leaves thus a giant king cobra might be present there.
Dont try to eat/taste fruits of Jungli Kadipatta tree.The juice of its fruit tends to crack and break our teeth immidiately.
Tackling Wild animals
Tigers and Leopards usually don’t attack humans unless provoked but remember that a tiger or leopard never comes in front of you.In case if a leopard/Tiger comes in front of you,you need to retreat few steps behind and just watch it from some place,Remember that if a tiger/Leopard comes in front of you,its intention is not to harm/attack you hence it is expected that we also should not attack them otherwise they can easily defend.Only do is that you should try to shout as loud as possible to drive away them.

About Sloth Bears
Sloth bears are the most dangerous animals found in forests.While in the teritory of forests having large number of bears (areas like Vasota),please take care that you must not talk loudly.When you talk loudly,definitely other animals like tigers,leopards,wild pigs,foxes etc run away but bears never run away.Infact bears are attracted towards loud noise created hence if you are making too much noise then it is likely to attract bears
In case when a bear comes in front of you,try maximum not to look into eyes of a bear.A bear cannot look clearly  beyond 25 to 50 meters but it can smell anything from few kilometers. If you look into eyes of a bear ,then definitely the bear feels challanged and it will attack you.Thus when you encounter a bear,don’t make loud noise and try to show the bear that you are neglecting him,don’t look into eyes of bear or don’t do anything which will challenge a bear.Never challenge a bear.In case if still the bear is coming forward towards you,then one option is spraying chilli powder into his eyes and on his nose.There are many Chilli-Pepper sprays available in market which can spray with perfect aim from even 5 to 10 meters.One spray available in 175 rupees is from Defensive enterprises a company near Thane.Bears generally are vegeterian but they can eat flesh also in exceptional cases.
Regarding bears near Vasota,there were varoius stories of bears told by one person at the forest office near Vasota entrance gate  wherein one person told that one women was going to collect firewood in jungles and while coming,she encountered a bear and she immidiately started running towards the forests and the bear was following her.The bear came in a striking distance and just pierced his nails into skull of that women and in minutes,the head of that women was smashed into pieces.Such were the stories heard by us right from Bamnoli,from the boatman and the persons in the entrance checkpost at Vasota.Bears can run at a speed of 50 to 60 kms per hour(Olympic gold medalist in 100 meters running also is very very slow when we compare its speed with a bear so just imagine what is the case with other animals like tigers/leopards.They are much faster than a bear)
Regarding Wild pigs ,their smelling power is too much but their eyesight is very weak.Wild pigs cannot see beyond 10 to 15 meters but they can smell from 500 meters to even 1 kilometers thus in case of encountering a wild pig,be in a group and make as much noise as possible.Also in jungle don’t wear bright red /maroon and even white color clothes because bears,wild pigs,Wild bisons(Raan gava) and elephants catch up with these colors quickly.Always wear clothes of colors green,brown,gray and light yellow
Beware of deers also.Reason because though deers are not harmful to humans but when a deer is frightened,it runs anywhere thus it can seriously injure anybody with its horns
Indian Wild Gaurs or Raan-Gava are very dangerous and it is the largest animal found in jungles of  Sahyadri forests especially Koyna-Warna,Dajipur near Phonda ghat and Gaganbawda regions of Sahyadris.There are few instances where wild bisons have even killed a tiger.Its smelling power is maximum.Our group was hardly 1 kms from a group of 4 wild bisons near koyna and they sniffed and were looking at us and ran away.But it must not be assumed that wild bisons will always run away after seeing humans.If provoked,they wan attack also and their attack is tremendous that it is very difficult to defend.
How to identify whether any animal is nearby
When you are travelling in a forests,always observe whether there are flies roaming nearby.Because the flies in forests indicates that some flesh eating animals are present in that forest.Also try to get smell in the forests.
Tigers dont tolerate wild other animals in their teritory .There are many cases where tigers have killed leopards and bears also.Tigers can kill and eat leopards and bears also.
Leopards generally hunt and eat monkeys.
Bears eat jackfruits,grass,honey,termites and ants and they also eat fish.
Wild pigs eats grass and termites present in soil.Many times it has been seen that wild pigs also have ate remaining bones of dead animals which are hunted by tiger/leopards.
If the smell in the forest is stinking,then definitely it shows presence of bears nearby maybe some bear is staying nearby reason is that bears have a habit of eating fruits like jackfruits which are abundant in sahyadris forest.Bears usually don’t come out of their hiding places during rainy seasons hence they eat abundant jackfruits or any other fruits and vomit it in a cave.Thus they make storage for food during the period when they don’t come out of cave during extreme seasonsThus in a forest,if near to some cave if you find stinking smell,definitely bears will be present there.Also while travelling in such forests,observe marks on the trees.If they are scratched also indicates prescence of bears
Always keep watch and listen to sounds of animals like monkeys and signals given by them.If a peacock signals sound like “ko~ook ko~ook” or if a monkey sound comes like “Khack~ Khack~Tik” with repeated pauses in between  then definitely some animal like Tiger/Leopard is present there.I experienced a leopard some 50 to 100 meters away while descending Kulang fort near Kulangwadi village and at that time a monkey on top of tree was giving same signal mentioned above.Also at Ajoba parvat,one monkey was giving a same signal and I heard a thunder/lightning sound from some 200 to 500 meters.
Also observe the sound of a bird "Titvi in Marathi.I dont know what it is called in English".This bird gives signals useful to anyone.While coming from Vasota,this bird was constantly roaming around us and giving signals in a shrilling voice and in 2 to 3 minutes,we came to see a group of wild Indian Gaurs(Raan gava)
About this a detailed description about identifying animals based on signals given by birds and other animals is given in a book by author Shri Maruti Chintampalli in ”Aranya vachan” a marathi book
A typical “Khurrr~ Khurrr~ ” spontanueous  sound associated with a sound of brisk walking in dense bushes on dried leaves is of a wild pig whereas a continuous “Khuss Khuss” sound on dried leaves  is of deers/palm civet ( udmanjar in marathi) and if the sound is continuos then it is some reptiles like snakes are crawling
Noise on dried leaves are not generated when Tigers/Leopards walk hence you cannot make out these animals based on sound of walking.Bears make sound on dried leaves .Initially the sound is discontinuous but later on the sound is spontanueous  when they run
Where are the animals located
For that you need to understand the structure of mountain.Generally mountain is having a structure like foothill,upper plateau,shoulders,arms,top,ridges,cols,top plateau etc
Foothills is the starting point where villages are located
The upper plateau is the place where after climbing some part of mountain ,one or more  plateau is present in between(example:-Kulang,Kalsubai,Siddhagad,Ratangad,Salher etc).There can be one or more than one upper plateau for a mountain or it may be not present
Shoulders are situated on any mountain when there are two or more arms descending down gently from the top and at a certain point,descent is very steep(Torna,Rajgad,Ajoba Parvat,Pratapgad,Ghanchakkar-Muda etc)
Top Pleateau is situated on a flat mountain top (Raigad,Sudhagad,Vasota,Raireshwar,Alang,Avandh-Patta,Ghanchakkar etc)
Arms of the mountain is generally a sharp descent descending down from the shoulders of the mountain and coming directly to the foothills/base village(Kalsubai,Kulang,Torna etc)
Now where the animals resides
Wild pigs,rabbits resides near the foothills and the upper plateau where water and grass is ample.Almost all wild animals are present between this area from foothills to upper plateau
Wild animals like Tigers and Leopards are also present on the top plateau of mountain.Since tigers,leopards are the fastest in the forest hence they can be also seen nearby top of mountain.
Foxes and wolves are present everywhere but they prefer to stay near the upper plateau
Wild gaurs or Raan-Gava are located mostly near water source but they can be also present on the mountain top plateau.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Vasota fort the tiger's den

Vasota(Vyaghragad the fort of tiger) 

(Marathi/Devnagari fonts not working in blogger .Will edit blog later using Marathi fonts)

 Vasota/Vyaghragad is situated in Koyna Tiger reserve project of Maharashtra government situated on the other side of the koyna dam backwaters.
Currently as per recently done counting of tigers,the tiger count in this area is around 13,There are lot of leopards,sloth bears and wild buffaloes,wild pigs,jungle grey fowls,variety of snakes,palm civets and lot of variety of birds(you will see variety of sparrows and parrots in this forest)

This is totally a jungle fort with no human settlements in 300 square kilometers.Only wild animals rule this area

How to reach Vasota
From Satara,Reach Bamnoli village which is 40 kms from Satara and 10 kms ahead of Kaas lake.
From Satara,the road to Bamnoli is through mountainous regions full of flora and fauna .If you are lucky,you can even see wild animals in your way from Kaas to Bamnoli.
After reaching Bamnoli,you have to first ask whether permission is obtained or not and then book a boat and then show the reciept to the forest officials.After that they enter your names in their register and give you passes according to the number of people in the trek.
The to and fro boating charges are now 2000 rupees and maximum 12 people can be accommodated in one boat.Permission is 20 rupees per head and some 9 to 10 rupees as some tax which accounts to almost 30 rupees per head.Thus if 12 people are there,the cost per head is 175 rupees whereas if there are less people,the cost of boating increases
In rainy season(15th June to 15th October),no permission is given for vasota trek.

After the permission is recieved ,the forest officials call the boatman ,take his signature and after that we can leave for Vasota by boat.
The formalities for permission takes place in 30 minutes to 1 hour
After that the boat leaves to Vasota and after moving through backwaters through surrounding dense forests,it takes almost 1.5 hours by boat to reach Met-Indavli the base village of Vasota
If you go to Vasota just after rainy season,you dont have to walk too much.The boat drops you till Met-Indavli.In summer season when the water level drops down,you have to walk 30 minutes more to reach Met-Indavli(which was our case)

When you reach Met-Indavli,a huge entrance with "Koyna Abhayaranya Suswagatam" welcomes you with many photos of tigers mentioning "Sahyadri Tiger Project Reserve" welcomes you

From here,there are 3 to 4 houses with 2 people living here You have to show the permission passes here before proceeding.
From here,the thrill of a forest trek starts.Vasota top from here is around 2 hours distance.The forests are very dense such that around 1:00 pm afternoon even,you feel that it might be evening(You cannot make any difference between morning,afternoon and evening in these forests.But night is soon recognized in the forest)

Now the forests get much much denser .The route of forests is well defined hence there is no need of any guide except for old Vasota where permission is not given and route is delibrately blocked by forest officials.
Trekkers can only go to New Vasota and Nageshwar.

While walking through forests,you will be able to feel the existence of many wild animals somewhere near you.many times it happens especially during evening.Many times you will feel some animal running in dense bushes some 20 to 50 feets somewhere near you.
We encountered this situation of wild animals nearby us almost 7 to 8 times in our trek thus it added to the excitement of our trek.(One photo of wild animal we saw is shown below in one photograph.Please see it)

Thus after 1 to 1.5 hours of trek,you come to a point where Vasota is straight route in 30 minutes and towards your right,Nageshwar is 3 kms ahead.Actually there are 2 hills looking same like Nageshwar hence while going to Nageshwar,it creates confusion.But the second hill way ahead is Nageshwar.
From this point,when you walk 20 to 30 minutes , you are into Vasota.

Vasota is having a flat top .East to west is narrow and North to South is very vast and spread.Vasota is having remains of forts,temple and two ruined palaces.
The top of Vasota is covered by dense trees all over and after walking through that,one reaches a fascinating point of Vasota 'Babu Kada' .It is the replica of Konkan Kada of Harishchandragad .

Also there is very thick vegetation on vasota top with useful herbs.Jungli Kadipatta is abundant with hundreds of trees.Its fragrance can be felt from 25 to 30 feets also.I brought it with me.Only 2 leaves of this kadipatta gives tremendous smell to the curry which ordinary curry leaves dont give that smell with a twig of leaves.Taste wise,this jungli curry leaves are very very fantastic.

History of Vasota :

Vasota was built during 9th Century at the time of Bhoja Shilahar dynasty .This fort was never in Mughal rule.Infact Mughals didnt dare to come till this region.
During the rule of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj,this fort was belonging to Chandrarao More of Jawali but later on after his defeat,this fort was into swarajya .
Vasota was considered as a safest option during that time and hence when Samarth Ramdas swami took Samadhi at Sajjangad and after death of Sambhaji Maharaj,Aurangazed came over deccan plateau,The precious things at Sajjangad were kept at Vasota thus it was saved.

Later during Peshwa time.Vasota was ruled by Aundh Pratishthan Raje Pant Pratinidhi..But after the difference between Peshwe and Aundh Sansthan increased,Peshwas attacked Vasota.Fierce fight was led by a lady 'Tai Telin' but finally Vasota went to Peshwas.
From here on,Vasota was used as prison till the britishers captured it around year 1821

Our trek

Our trek started around 11:00 am when we got permission after lot of miscommunications and wastage of time due to that.The boat person said first obtain permission and then book a boat whereas while obtaining permission,the forest officials were saying that we need boat reciept for giving permission.Further the boatman went somewhere and to find another took few time thus doing all these formalities took time and finally around 11:00 am,we left to Vasota by boat.
It was a ride through scenic backwaters covered  by thick forests all over.
After 1.5 hours,we reached a point from where the trek starts.Boat could not go further because water was not very deep enough to kep the boat moving.We told the boatman to come back to pick us till 5:30 pm.
Now we were walking through shores of backwaters and in 30 minutes,we reached the point where we enter into the forest.We showed the permission obtained and started moving ahead.
The forest was very dense and thus it was dark all over.Flies were roaming all over the forest which itself tells the prescense of wild animals like Tigers,Leopards and Bears etc(Because these flies live very near to the flesh eating wild animals.Also these flies were big in size than the ordnary flies found in houses etc)
After all these things,finally,we reached Vasota top in 2 hours.There were remains on fort,temples and ofcourse the fascinating point Babu Kada which has a sheer drop of 800 meters in Konkan.
All this took almost 5:00 pm now.
We remembered that boatman will be coming around 5:30 pm but it was impossible to get there till 5:30 pm.
Hence now we decided that out of 9 people,3 people will walk/run faster and reach the boating point just to stop that boatman and remaining  6 people will also come back 15 to 20 minutes after us

So I,Anirban and Milind started descending Vasota quickly.It was getting darker and we 3 people in dense forests.It was a little bit risky situation because now wild animals were about to come out of their places in short time itself.At 3 points,we felt that some wild animal is following parallel to us in the dense trees.Sometimes,it was going ahead and was trying to intercept our road.But since we were walking fast and almost running down the slopes,the wild animal was afraid of the huge noise created and after that everything was quiet.
After few time,we experienced the same thing but the animal was different because earlier,the animal walking in trees might be a palm civet(udmanjar in marathi) but now we were sure that the animal close to us was a wild pig because this animal was briskly walking on ground and his walking sound on ground and dried leaves was like khur-khur-khur type which is definately of a wild pig.It was supposed to be 10 feets away from us but again when we started walking with heavy stamping our legs on ground,the walking sound of that animal stopped and we proceeded away.
Again just before coming to the forest department office below vasota,we experienced this twice but no animal came in our way.
Weapons with us were 2 knieves and one stick.

In 30 minutes,we descended Vasota completely and now we came out the entrance of Koyna forest tiger reserve
Now we were walking faster to catch the boat.It was already 6:00 pm and we were walking in forests on shores of Koyna lake.Now it was a risky situation because we were only 3 people,with now getting dark all over and now wild animals are on their way to the sources of water.
We saw the boat waiting for us.It was almost 6:00 pm and light was fading.Suddenly we saw group of 4 wild buffaloes(called Raan gava or Raan reda in Marathi) coming near water source but they were 1 km away from us.They started realizing our smell because I clearly saw the bufallo in front their leader ws lifting his head and sniffing in our direction only.
But I dont know what happened.These buffaloes ran away in a flash
In 5 more minutes,we were near our boat.
The rest team also came and around 6:30 pm,finally the boat moved
The other team of 6 behind us saw wild fowls (Raan Kombda in Marathi) while coming on their way

We reached Bamnoli around 8:00 pm .But since it was impossible for us to go back during night because I came by car with 5 people,4 people came on 2 bikes hence it was risky to drive through forests around 9:00 pm.
We stayed in Bamnoli in a temple.We got a small house where 5 people stayed in a room and we 4 people stayed in a temple and next morning around 7:00 am,we departed to Pune to reach till afternoon

Here are the photos

Dense forest on our way to Vasota

Finally Vasota was in our sight.Looking down you can see the backwaters of Koyna .Our boat dropped us at the point far away.You might notice dried up part in backwaters.From Boat point till there,it took 30 minutes for us to come there.Thus after spanning too much distance in Koyna forests,we reached here

Babu Kada a replica of  Harishchandragad Kokan Kada

Fascinating view of Sahyadri ranges from Vasota

Nageshwar Lingi to the front from Vasota

View of Nageshwar Lingi, Mahimandangad , Chakdev, Parvat from Vasota

Remains of palace on Vasota.Now this ruined palace is covered by dense trees all over

Hanuman temple on Vasota

Buruj at the end of Vasota fort on North Side

Old Temple on Vasota

Vasota fort and the Koyna Forest while coming at evening time

Wild Buffaloes/Raan gava They were less than  1 kms on our way to boat .But they ran away immidiately they saw us

From Vasota,through dense